Some e-hailing drivers 'fearing for their lives' after gruesome Cape Town vigilante attack

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People protest outside the Wynberg Magistrate's Court during the appearance of people accused of killing Abongile Mafalala.
People protest outside the Wynberg Magistrate's Court during the appearance of people accused of killing Abongile Mafalala.
PHOTO: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach
  • Several e-hailing drivers say they are fearful of picking up passengers in "coloured areas".
  • This, after Abongile Mafalala was brutally beaten and set alight in Parkwood, Cape Town last week.
  • E-hailing companies say drivers have every right to decline a trip if they are concerned about their safety.

Some e-hailing drivers, including foreigners, are "fearing for their lives" following the gruesome vigilante murder of one of their colleagues, Abongile Mafalala, in Parkwood last week.

Mafalala, 30, was killed by an angry mob who accused him of kidnapping children in the area, a claim law enforcement officials had since denied.

Paying their last respects to their slain colleague, scores of e-hailing drivers have been gathering at Mafalala's home in Dunoon since his murder.

News24 spoke to several drivers who claimed they were now afraid of going into "coloured areas", after the vigilante attack.

One driver, Edwin Nhemi, a single dad of three, said he made most of his money driving trips in "coloured areas", but now he had to reconsider his daily trips.

READ | Arrest everyone involved, says family of e-hailing driver killed by Cape Town mob

"Every day my line of work takes me to coloured areas, and in most cases, I drop off my passengers in the Cape Flats and I've never had any bad experiences. But now I'm fearful because like Abongile, I also start work around 06:00 and I have no idea where my first ride request will take me," he said.

Nhemi said he'd been an e-hailing driver for the past five years, adding that it was difficult to choose your next trip request, particularly when you were desperately in "need of money".

Nhemi said: 

I have three kids I need to look after. Some days I leave the house with a heavy heart because I don’t know what the day holds for me on the road. I've since chosen to not pick up or drop any passengers in the townships because I had previously been robbed and my vehicle stoned and stolen. The robbers left me stranded in the area and drove off with my car two years ago.

He added that the incident still haunted him.

Tanaka Makhuyana said while he was fearful, it would be very difficult for him to not accept ride requests to certain areas.

"I go where the money is. I have to make money to stay alive, life is not cheap. This job is a gamble, but what can I do? Work is scarce in the Western Cape," he said.

Taurai Kudyara, 32, said since Abongile's brutal murder, he declined ride requests to the Cape Flats.

"Oh no, I will not go to these areas. I value my life too much. I'm not saying all coloured people will attack us as drivers, but I'm not willing to take the chance. I heard Abongile was not even given the opportunity to say why he was in the area, and that's scary for me," he said.

Coloured e-hailing drivers claimed they too were fearful of driving in certain areas, particularly townships, for fear of being attacked.

Samuel Bester has been driving for the e-hailing platforms for over five years and said he would not drive to the townships.

READ | Five appear for mob justice attack where man was burnt alive

"It's vicious there. Especially on Friday afternoons going into the weekend. The criminals don't care what time of the day they act, they will rob us during the day even. I'm not prepared to go through that experience again," said Bester.

Meanwhile, head of communications for Uber South Africa Mpho Sebelebele, said the company had over 20 000 active drivers and delivery people from different race groups. 

"We believe in equal opportunities for all. As a company that powers movement, it's our goal to ensure that everyone can find opportunities and move freely, whether physically, economically, or socially. All delivery people and drivers, regardless of their race or gender, follow the same account sign-up and activation process," said Sebelebele.

The e-hailing company maintained that the safety of riders and drivers was a top priority, and they had several safety features available such as an in-app emergency button linked to private security.

"We continuously engage directly with drivers using our various engagement channels to work towards addressing any issues. We are monitoring the situation on the ground, and our Incident Response Team (IRT) is available 24/7 to respond immediately to any reported incidents," said Sebelebele. 

Uber added:

Our Law Enforcement Relations Team is also on call to work with police at any time to respond to urgent incidents. We encourage drivers and riders to report any incidents to Uber and the police to ensure these issues can be resolved. Uber remains open to working with the local authorities to path solutions that can improve the safety of drivers and riders.

According to the company, as independent contractors, drivers used their discretion on which trips to accept and were "within their rights" to cancel an allocated booking as a result of various factors provided they aligned to the Uber Community Guidelines.

"In addition, as part of Uber's commitment towards safety, we have initiated a Safety Sessions Programme in collaboration with South African Police Service (SAPS) to help address the safety concerns raised by drivers and delivery people on the Uber platform," added Sebelebele.

Country Manager for Bolt in South Africa, Takura Malaba, said that the company would never penalise a driver for cancelling or declining a trip that starts or ends in a known hotspot area.

"Bolt condemns any form of violence and takes accusations of any form of violence directed towards e-hailing drivers very seriously, unwavering in our belief that every person has the right to earn a living and move around without risk of harm, coercion, or fear of death or injury," said Malaba.

Bolt added that it was always looking for ways to make e-hailing safer for everybody, in consultation with the SAPS, the Department of Transport, and other stakeholders.

"This is so that Bolt can continue to offer a way that more than 40 000 drivers can earn an income and a way for millions of people in South Africa to access affordable door-to-door transport," said Malaba.  

Bolt added that it did not release demographic data about the drivers that used the platform due to POPIA requirements, but confirmed that drivers required a South African PrDP to connect to passengers via the platform. The PrDP required a person to be legally resident in South Africa.

Nine people have appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate's Court in connection with the case, five appeared for murder and four for robbery and malicious damage to property.  

The case was postponed to next Monday.

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